- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

EUREKA, Mont. — Thousands of trucks carrying hand-hewn logs descended on this tiny northwestern Montana town last week in a bid to save the areas last independent sawmill and draw attention to rural areas hit hard by the Clinton administrations environmental policies.

Trucks lined up through the day to drop off their loads at the Owens and Hurst Lumber Co., which laid off a third of its work force in January as a result of declining access to timber on national forests. To keep going, the sawmill has been hauling in burned logs from Alberta, Canada, more than 500 miles away.

At the fairgrounds, Gov. Judy Martz applauded the little town´s perseverance in the face of economic adversity and said she believes the Bush administration understands Western issues and at least is willing to listen.

Mrs. Martz, a Republican, blasted the Clinton administration´s roadless initiative and called for more aggressive management of federal forests and local input.

"It´s time that Washington, D.C., listens first to those closest to the land," she said.

Mrs. Martz and other speakers said Americans need to understand that logging and healthy forests have a symbiotic relationship, and that the non-management of federal forests during the Clinton years have left them overgrown, diseased and fire-prone.

"It´s not about logging, it´s about forest health," Mrs. Martz said. "And logging is one of the tools to ensure a healthy forest."

The "Eureka Log Haul" drew participants from as far away as Ohio, including one man who flew a log on a small airplane.

The declining fortunes of mining, oil and timber — Montana´s bread-and-butter industries since its founding — have left the state in dire economic straits. Last year, Montana ranked last nationally in average wages paid and near the bottom in per capita income earned.

The closure of two major sawmills last year was a serious blow to Lincoln County, where more than 50 percent of the economy is tied to the wood products industry and unemployment is four times the national average.

The 30 percent decline in wood products production in the last decade is related directly to a 70 percent reduction in trees harvested from national forests, largely because of the Endangered Species Act, said Chuck Keegan, a timber industry specialist with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

"I would place almost all the blame for the timber industry´s decline on the 70 percent reduction on timber sale offerings from national forests," said Mr. Keegan.

Mills like the one in Eureka cannot survive unless they are assured a dependable supply of timber off national forests, said sawmill co-owner Jim Hurst.

"Our immediate survival depends on the accelerated sale of timber that was burned [in wildfires] last year," Mr. Hurst said. Those sales will buy the mill time "while we figure out what´s going to happen with the Forest Service in the new administration."

Bob Seidel, timber management assistant at the Eureka office of the Kootenai National Forest, doesn´t expect the amount of timber sold in that district to rise much in the future because of critical habitat designation for grizzly bear, wolf and other endangered species.

But his office is hustling to put together a sale on stands of timber burned in wildfires last summer, he said, and is trying to implement a "stay" on the salvage timber sale, which will speed along the process by allowing work to go forward while any appeals to the sales are considered.

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